Overview

Helen Michael concentrates her practice in complex commercial litigation, with a particular emphasis on insurance coverage disputes. During nearly 30 years of representing policyholders, Ms. Michael has handled high-stakes cases in all key coverage areas. These disputes  include property damage and business interruption claims for losses arising out of hurricanes and other natural disasters, products liability, bodily injury and environmental claims arising from class action and other cases, claims involving violation of consumer protection statutes and other allegedly unfair trade practices, intellectual property claims, construction defect claims, employment practices liability claims, claims against companies and their corporate officers and directors arising out of alleged securities violations and other alleged corporate misconduct, and numerous other errors and omissions liability and directors and officers liability claims. Her work for Fortune 100 and other corporate policyholders has taken place in a variety of settings, including mediation, arbitration, trial and appeal. Ms. Michael also regularly counsels her clients during the policy placement renewal process to help ensure they obtain insurance appropriate for the principal risks presented by their businesses.

Working closely with her clients to determine objectives, formulate effective strategies, and position disputes for the best outcomes, whether through negotiation, or at trial or on appeal, Ms. Michael has a proven track record of success. Through mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, Ms. Michael has collected many millions in insurance assets for her clients. Among trial successes, Ms. Michael has secured among the largest jury verdicts reported in 2001 and 2003. Among successes on appeal, Ms. Michael has obtained a ruling on a question of first impression in 2010 reconfirming the breadth of insurers’ duty to defend class action cases. In total, Ms. Michael has assisted her clients in recovering more than a billion dollars in insurance proceeds.

Ms. Michael also has substantial experience in class action practice and the formulation of effective strategies for defeating mass tort and other consumer claims, including theories governing the piercing of the corporate veil and the imposition of successor liability. She has counseled numerous clients on developing protocols and structuring transactions to guard against incurring vicarious liability for the obligations of corporate affiliates.

Ms. Michael has been recognized as a leading lawyer in insurance law and business litigation in numerous publications. She is listed in the 2016 and 2017 editions of Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business in the area of Insurance: Policyholder. The Best Lawyers in America® has recognized Ms. Michael for excellence in Insurance Law in 2017 and each of the immediately preceding four years. She has been repeatedly recognized as a top Washington D.C. “Super Lawyer” by Super Lawyers® magazine since 2011, including as a “Top Rated Insurance Coverage Lawyer” in 2016 and the six immediately preceding years, as a “Top 50 Women Super Lawyer” in 2017 and five preceding years and as a “Top 100 Washington Super Lawyer” in 2017 and five preceding years. She also has been named by Legal Media Group as a leading lawyer in its prestigious Expert Guide to the World's Leading Women in Business Law in 2017 and each of the four immediately preceding years, and the Expert Guide to the World's Leading Insurance and Reinsurance Lawyers in 2016 and 2017. 

Ms. Michael serves on the Membership Committee, as well as on the Litigation and Trial Practice Committee of the American Colleague American College of Coverage and Extracontractual Counsel, an honorary organization of the country’s top insurance coverage lawyers. She is Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America.

Ms. Michael also is a leader in the American Bar Association Torts, Trial and Insurance Section, where she has served as a national chair of the Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee, and presently serves on the Task Force for Healthcare Reform,

Ms. Michael has served as Co-Leader of the firm’s Insurance Recovery team and on the firm’s Executive Committee and Pro Bono Committee. She is a Co-Chair of the Firm’s Retail and Consumer Goods Industry team.

Experience Highlights

  • Claims advocacy and coverage advice for one of the country’s largest cement manufacturers regarding substantial business interruption and property losses caused by Hurricane Harvey.
  • Assist high-end retailer with insurance recovery for property damage and other losses caused by Superstorm Sandy.
  • Secured insurance coverage for major debt collection company in connection property damage caused to a number of its Texas facilities as a result of a severe hail storm.
  • Represent financial institution in a high stakes dispute against the senior management of the bankrupt firm Dewey & LeBouef LLP involving a complex mix of securities fraud, insurance coverage and bankruptcy issues, and secured notes issued to Dewey in the total amount of $150 million.
  • Obtained substantial insurance recovery for hedge fund in insurance coverage litigation seeking coverage for hundreds of millions losses incurred in connection with criminal and other governmental investigations, and criminal and civil lawsuits alleging wrongful acts committed in the provision of investment and tax management services.
  • Secured favorable settlements of high stakes coverage litigation brought against private equity company’s professional liability insurers incurred in connection with several class actions and numerous other multiparty actions alleging errors and omissions in connection with the marketing and sale of annuities to senior citizens, which sought damages in excess of $80 million.
  • Secured favorable settlements of coverage disputes with life insurance and annuity company’s coverage dispute with professional liability insurers for losses incurred in connection with several class actions and numerous other multiparty cases involving insurance policies used to fund employee benefit plans, which sought damages in excess of $50 million.
  • Served as lead counsel for venture capital firm in connection with high stakes dispute under directors and officers liability policy regarding insurance for liabilities incurred in connection with government investigations and civil litigation involving alleged Ponzi scheme.
  • Recovered full policy limits for private equity company in complex coverage dispute involving employment claims.
  • Obtained substantial insurance recovery for high-end fashion company resolving insurance coverage dispute arising out of high stakes litigation a former director brought against the company and its current directors alleging breach of fiduciary duty and numerous other claims.
  • Secured favorable settlement of coverage dispute with professional liability insurers on behalf of the largest national debt collection company involving losses incurred in connection with several nationwide class actions alleging statutory privacy and consumer protection claims.
  • Negotiated favorable settlement of coverage dispute for media company involving nationwide bet-the-company class action brought pursuant to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
  • Serve as lead counsel for chemical company in complex coverage litigation involving environmental liabilities in which trial court has just resolved case-dispositive choice-of-law question in client’s favor.
  • Serve as lead insurance coverage counsel in ongoing bet-the-company coverage litigation between food and flavoring company and 15 of its insurance carriers involving mass tort claims alleging bodily injuries caused by exposure to the butter flavoring, diacetyl, distributed by the client.
  • Secured favorable resolution of coverage dispute involving losses incurred in multiple products liability actions alleging tort and consumer protection claims brought by flight attendants allegedly injured by uniforms made by client’s affiliate.
  • Negotiated favorable settlement of coverage dispute involving a nationwide products liability action after arguing appeal in which the Massachusetts Appeals Court resolved in the client’s favor a question of first impression regarding whether a prayer in a class action complaint seeking injunctive relief was sufficient to trigger the carrier’s defense obligation. See Omega Flex, Inc. v. Pacific Employers Insurance Company, 78 Mass. App. Ct. 262 (2010), review denied, 459 Mass. 1103 (2011).
  • Obtained favorable settlement for contract mining company following trial court’s grant of summary judgment resolving a question of first impression under Idaho law and ruling that costs the client incurred in conducting a remedial investigation and feasibility study that by the government constituted defense costs that the insurance company must pay in addition to policy limits. See Wells Cargo, Inc. v. Transport Insurance Company, No. 1:08-CV-00491-BLW, 2011 WL 5080143 (D. Idaho Oct. 26, 2011).
  • Secured favorable settlement of high profile coverage litigation involving losses incurred in several class actions cases filed in California, New Jersey and Massachusetts alleging that the client’s collection and use of customers’ zip codes violated their rights to privacy as established, among other by, California’s Song-Beverly Act.
  • Obtained favorable settlements on the eve of trial for policyholder in an action against more than 35 insurance companies for environmental liabilities incurred at more than 150 sites.

Pro Bono Representation

Ms. Michael was part of a team of firm attorneys who developed a series of webinars with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s Community Economic Development (CED) Project, on risk management and insurance matters, focused on issues faced by non-profit organizations. The firm was honored as the co-recipient of the D.C. Bar’s 2011 Frederick B. Abramson Award for its work on this project. Ms. Michael also has provided pro bono representation in numerous other matters, including election, asylum and employment discrimination matters.

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Experience

Serve as lead insurance coverage counsel for Citrus & Allied Essences, Ltd. in disputes with 10 of its insurance carriers. The disputes involve coverage for claims alleging bodily injury as a result of exposure to diacetyl, a butter flavoring, distributed by Citrus & Allied. The firm is pursuing insurance recovery for defense costs and other losses incurred in connection with the ongoing mass tort litigation involving more than 160 mass tort claims asserting lung disease allegedly caused by exposure to diacetyl. This hard-fought coverage dispute, which presents several questions of first impression under New York law, involves two competing insurance recovery actions filed by certain of Citrus’ insurers in New York State Court.

Secured insurance coverage for major debt collection company in connection property damage caused to a number of its Texas facilities as a result of a severe hail storm.

Obtained favorable settlement for International Paper Company and Masonite Corporation in connection with the defense of a nationwide products liability class action alleging property damage claims certified in Alabama state court.

Lead counsel for major chemical company in multiple competing insurance recovery actions filed by the client and many of its excess insurers seeking recovery for defense and indemnity costs incurred in connection with multiple environmental sites.

Claims advocacy and coverage advise for one of the country’s largest cement manufacturers regarding substantial business interruption and property losses caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Served as appellate counsel for amici curiae in support of a successful challenge in the Alabama Supreme Court to the practice of ex parte class certification. Ex parte Federal Express Corp., 718 So. 2d 13, 1998 Ala. LEXIS 152 (Ala. 1998).

Served as appellate counsel for Cooper Industries in asbestos bodily injury suit and obtained favorable settlement in connection with that appeal. Pneumo Abex, LLC v. Mallia, No. 3D06-220 (Fla. 3d DCA).

Obtained substantial settlements for hedge fund in insurance coverage litigation seeking coverage for losses incurred in connection with criminal and other governmental investigations, and criminal and civil lawsuits alleging wrongful acts committed in the provision of investment and tax management services.

Lead counsel for Omega Flex in an ongoing litigation seeking insurance coverage for losses incurred in connection with a nationwide products liability action involving corrugated stainless steel tubing manufactured by Omega Flex. Defense costs and other losses incurred by Omega Flex in the class action exceeded $13 million. In November 2010, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued a decision finding that defendant Pacific Employers Insurance Company had a duty to defend Omega Flex in the class action, resolving in Omega Flex’s favor a question of first impression regarding whether a prayer in a class action complaint seeking injunctive relief was sufficient to trigger the carrier’s defense obligation. This decision is an important one for policyholders because it reaffirms that Massachusetts imposes a very broad defense obligation on insurance companies. Following this decision, a confidential but extremely favorable settlement of this coverage dispute was negotiated for Omega Flex at the end of 2011. Omega Flex, Inc. v. Pacific Employers Insurance Company, 78 Mass. App. Ct. 262 (2010), review denied, 459 Mass. 1103 (2011).

Served as trial and appellate counsel for International Paper & Masonite in action against more than 20 insurance companies seeking recovery for liabilities arising out of the manufacture and sale of hardboard siding products, including settlement of a nationwide class action. Following a 13-week trial, the jury awarded International Paper & Masonite $383 million in damages for amounts paid in settlement of the underlying cases. This verdict was the second largest rendered by a California jury in 2003 (as reported in the Daily Journal Extra) and was ranked fifth in the National Law Journal’s “Top 100” verdicts for 2003. In an earlier trial for bad faith breach of the duty to defend, the jury awarded $93 million against Employers Insurance of Wausau, including $68 million in punitive damages. Total insurance recoveries obtained in settlement after conclusion of bench trial on allocation issues exceeded $650 million. International Paper Co. & Masonite Corp. v. Affiliated FM Insurance Co., No. 97430 (Cal. Super. Ct.).

Lead counsel for largest national debt collection company in connection with its efforts to recover insurance for losses incurred in connection with several nationwide class actions alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. We are also representing this client in connection with its efforts to recover defense costs and other losses incurred in connection with a Federal Trade Commission investigation relating to certain debt collection practices.

Obtained favorable settlement from insurers in connection with several lawsuits asserting bodily injuries arising out of a building collapse. Symons Corporation v. American International Specialty Lines Insurance Co., No. 02CV2824 (Dane County Cir. Ct., Wisconsin 2002).

Obtained favorable settlement for liabilities arising out of the crash of a ValuJet plane in the Florida Everglades. AirTran Airlines Inc. v. U.S. Aviation Underwriters Inc., No. 99A-8430-4 (Gwinnett Cty., Ga. Super. Ct. 1999).

Lead counsel for client in insurance coverage dispute with errors and omissions insurer regarding losses incurred in connection with nationwide class action alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Obtained favorable settlement for SCM Corporation in an action against 14 insurance companies for environment liabilities involving numerous environmental sites.

Lead counsel for Wells Cargo, Inc. in litigation seeking insurance coverage for losses incurred in connection with an environmental proceeding brought against Wells Cargo and a number of other companies for alleged property damage at a phosphate mine in Soda Springs, Idaho. In October 2011, Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho granted summary judgment to Wells Cargo, resolving a question of first impression under Idaho law in Wells Cargo’s favor and ruling that costs Wells Cargo has incurred in conducting a remedial investigation and feasibility study that the government ordered Wells Cargo to undertake are defense costs that the insurance company must pay in addition to policy limits. In July 2012, Judge Winmill issued another favorable decision, this time rejecting the insurance company’s argument that an endorsement in its policies entitled it to recover all defense costs paid to Wells Cargo as an additional retrospective premium endorsement. Wells Cargo, Inc. v. Transport Insurance Company, No. 1:08-CV-00491-BLW, 2011 WL 5080143 (D. Idaho Oct. 26, 2011); and Wells Cargo, Inc. v. Transport Insurance Company, No. 1:08-CV-00491-BLW, 2012 WL 3112009 (D. Idaho July 30, 2012).

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Education

George Washington University Law School, LL.M. (1989) with highest honors

University of North Carolina School of Law, J.D. (1986) with honors

Hampshire College, B.A. (1981) with honors

Admissions

District of Columbia

Maryland

Court Admissions

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Federal Claims Court

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Professional & Community Activities

Chair, American Bar Association, Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee of Tort Trial & Insurance Section

Vice-Chair, American Bar Association, Publications Chair and Member of Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee of Tort Trial & Insurance Section

Executive Committee Member of Council for Appellate Lawyer

Website Managing Editor, American Bar Association, Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee of Litigation Section

Past Co-Chair of Employment Practices Insurance Liability Subcommittee of Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee of Litigation Section

Trustee, Washington Lawyer’s Committee

Articles Editor, North Carolina Journal of International Law & Commercial Regulation

Member, American College of Coverage and Extracontractual Counsel

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